by Tom Finkel
Former Vashon High School coach Floyd Irons, one of Missouri's most victorious high school basketball coaches, and his former confidant and booster Mike Noll, were sentenced to federal prison Monday, along with mortgage broker John Mineo Jr., thus closing the book on a real estate fraud case that earlier resulted in prison time for a property appraiser as well.
U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Webber showed leniency with Irons, Noll and Mineo.
The judge sentenced Irons to two twelve-month prison terms, to run concurrently, as well as five years' probation, and ordered him to pay $653,147.09 in restitution to the banks that lost money as a result of the mortgage fraud. Federal sentencing guidelines, which judges may stray from, had called for a 27- to 33-month sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith had recommended 18 months.
John Mineo Jr. received a sentence of twelve months and one day -- which ends up amounting to a lesser sentence than twelve months, because of prison rules, Judge Webber noted -- and was also ordered to pay restitution of $653,147.09. Guidelines had called for jail time of 21 to 27 months. The federal prosecutor had recommended 14 months.
It was a long afternoon, with proceedings beginning at 2 p.m. and not wrapping up until 7:15 p.m. Irons was the last to be sentenced; his day in court ended with an unlikely sight: a receiving line of well-wishers offering hugs and handshakes. More than 100 people -- standing-room only -- had crowded the courtroom in his defense.
Degree of culpability, as well as character, seemed to factor most into Judge Webber's rulings.
Noll's attorney, Ed Dowd, claimed that Mineo approached Noll about the scheme to purchase and flip properties using false paperwork. But the judge rejected that idea and determined that Noll was the ringleader.
Dowd asked for leniency for Noll, based on Noll's twenty-year history as an informant on gambling and organized-crime cases. Dowd said Noll has had shots fired at him and received oral threats against his life because of his work for the FBI. "He has lived in danger while he served his country for no reason other than he wanted to help," Dowd said. "He has given the government everything he knows and is willing to continue to cooperate."
Dowd also referred to Noll's decades of providing financial assistance and support for children across the metro area to attend sports camps and tournaments, high schools and colleges. "He has no assets at all to support his family or to pay his legal fees," Dowd said, "so [my fellow attorneys] and I have been working on this case for free...because, particularly, of the numbers of young people he's helped."
Dowd read from letters written on Noll's behalf by parents and students who were recipients of his beneficence. The defense attorney also cited from letters written by two Catholic brothers and by St. Louis Rams executive vice president Bob Wallace.
Noll himself asked Judge Webber to spare him from prison: "Basketball kids, my extended family and my immediate family, they will bear the brunt of a lengthy punishment -- "
"How is that true?" Webber interrupted. "You're going to have to pay back more than one million dollars, and if you ever try to do anything like that again you're going to get arrested."
Prosecutor Goldsmith stated that the government has so far been unable to determine Noll's source of income.
Noll and Irons were longtime friends, and Noll was a longtime booster of Irons and Vashon High School. Irons coached the AAU team, St. Louis Gameface, organized by Noll.
John Mineo's sentencing was brief compared to his co-defendants'. "When Mr. Mineo pled guilty, he immediately went and told the teams that he coached," said his attorney, Bob Adler, "and I think that is a factor the court should consider -- "
"And I will," Judge Webber interrupted. "Because, so far, what I've heard from the other defendants is very little remorse...and I've been looking for that. It's been more about being caught and blame."
Webber determined that Mineo was a minor participant in the scheme.
The mortgage business was a secondary source of income for Mineo, according to testimony. He is involved in the operation of his family's eponymous Town & Country eatery.
As for Irons, his supporters filled the courtroom well before his sentencing began a little before 4:30 p.m.
Irons' attorney, Rick Sindel, portrayed Noll and Mineo as the orchestrators of the scheme and called his client "the least sophisticated" of the trio. "My client was involved in real estate for exactly one week, and that was a very bad week for him."
Sindel repeatedly said Irons made no money from the scam.
At all three proceedings, Goldsmith, the prosecutor, stressed the substantial losses wreaked on banks by the three men, and said that Irons had already admitted that he and Noll and Mineo had devised the scheme together. "I would suggest that this wasn't a bad week for this defendant," Goldsmith said, referring to Sindel's claim. "It was a great week! He owned in excess of a million dollars' worth of property without putting any money down himself."
Goldsmith also stressed the fact that Noll and Irons purchased their first property (which was bought in the name of Irons' son, Altonio Irons) before Mineo became involved. "[Irons] recruited and set up his own son," said Goldsmith. "Mr. Irons attempted to do this deal with his sister, and it never happened. So he turned to his son."
But Judge Webber decided Irons was less to blame than Noll. "All the information I have suggests to me that the person most cuplable in this scheme was Mr. Noll. The person least culpable was Mr. Mineo. The person least likely to be involved in this scheme was Mr. Irons.... Mr. Irons in my view fits in the middle of the scheme."
The judge said he received 86 letters on Irons' behalf, and he granted Sindel's request to allow almost a dozen of those people testify under oath as to Irons' character and his many good deeds over the years as a father figure to inner-city children.
Speakers included Dwayne Polk, a Saint Louis University Billiken; Steve Hall, a former assistant coach of the Vashon Wolverines; Julius Dix, a former Saint Louis Public Schools administrator; Rev. Phillip Duval; former NFL player Demetrious Johnson; Robert Nelson, former basketball coach at Forest Park Community College; as well as Steve Goedeker, owner of Goedeker's appliance, electronics and furniture store.
Webber prefaced his announcement of Irons' sentence with a long preamble that included some personal remarks about his own years on the bench. "It is such a strange situation for me to be in this sentencing," he said, going on to explain that day in and day out, he sends to prison one black man after another, many of them with similar stories: no father, no high-school diploma, no better job than working at McDonald's, with no family other than a gang. "I believe I have become maybe part of the problem than the solution because I continue to sentence these young men."
Webber continued: "I'm now about to sentence someone -- really, who's spent his whole life trying to correct that problem." The judge's voice cracked as he spoke. He said Irons' history and character factored significantly into his decision.
Irons began his remarks with an apology to Goldsmith, the prosecutor, though the nature of the apology was unclear.
"I don't think any sentence can compare to what I've been going through," Irons went on, before blaming recent media attention and "leaks" for his suffering. "I've become this total villain," he said. "Just the other day somebody said to me, 'That man who shot all those people out in Kirkwood hasn't got as much attention as you.' I have been sentenced already.
"Whatever prosecutors are looking at now to bring forth in the future," Irons continued, "I don't want to make any excuses for what I've done at Vashon High School. My job is to give those kids opportunities. I hope that Hal Goldsmith someday would give up his time to go into the community and see what I deal with."
Irons closed by saying he knew his sentence would strengthen him, and that no matter what, he would go on "helping kids in the community."
For our "Basketball by the Book" series about the Vashon Wolverines under Irons, click here.
As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Irons agreed to tell Missouri High School Athletics Association officials about any recruiting tactics he took at Vashon. In his own words with those investigators, Irons spells out his acts.
The Riverfront Times has received those interviews and made them available for public viewing here.